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Friday, June 4, 2010
Updated: June 8, 6:09 PM ET
KG, Celtics lose Game 1 battle in paint

By Chris Broussard
ESPN The Magazine

Kevin Garnett
KG and Boston usually don't surrender on the boards, but Game 1 was a case of Laker domination.

LOS ANGELES -- They can't be soft. They just can't be.

Not with Rajon Rondo having a power forward's mentality when it comes to rebounding. Not with Big Bad 'Sheed owning as much street cred as anyone who's graced the league over the past 15 seasons. Not with Glen Davis having the skills and physique of a defensive end.

So we won't go overboard and attach the dreaded "S-word" to the Boston Celtics. But know this: In Thursday's 102-89 loss to the Los Angeles Lakers, the Celtics certainly looked soft.

For all the talk about the delicate Lakers, all the chatter about their fairly peaceful stroll through the finesse-riddled Western Conference, all the questions about the tall, lean Spanish guy (because, you know, Europeans haven't always displayed the fortitude necessary to capture titles), it was the Celtics who appeared a bit dainty in Game 1 of the NBA Finals.

"I thought the Lakers were clearly the more physical team today," Celtics coach Doc Rivers said. "I thought they were more aggressive. I thought they attacked us the entire night. I didn't think we handled it very well. They killed us on the glass."

As decisive as that quote was, it was an understatement. Every one of the following statistics has an element of pushing, shoving and hustling to it, and every one of them went the Lakers' way:

Second-chance points: Lakers 16, Celtics 0.

Points in the paint: Lakers 48, Celtics 30.

Rebounds: Lakers 42, Celtics 31.

The Lakers even shot a robust 48.7 percent against Boston's vaunted D. And if those woebegone stats don't paint a vivid picture of how flimsy the Celtics were, Rivers added this one: When it came to sprinting for, diving for, fighting for loose balls, Los Angeles won by knockout.

"The 50/50 game was 17-4, them," Rivers said. "It's impossible to win on the road when you lose that bad in the 50/50 game."

The first hint that the Celtics weren't their usual surly, brutish selves came near the end of the first quarter, when Lakers backups Jordan Farmar and Shannon Brown drove down the lane for consecutive layups. Actually, the lane looked more like a boulevard, as the two guards sped to the hoop unscathed as Boston's big men stood by and watched, like teens engrossed in an action flick. It would happen again, more than once.

But an open lane was just one of the Celtics' problems. At times, Boston appeared downright timid near the rim. That is, when they went to the rim. Kevin Garnett, who was outplayed by a mile by Pau Gasol, seemed to want no part of the paint, as he settled for jumper after jumper rather than risk catching a beat-down at the hoop.

With 5:35 left to play and the Celtics trying to rally after chopping a 20-point deficit to 13, Rondo grabbed an offensive rebound and found KG wide-open under the basket. But KG heard footsteps, so instead of going up strong for a two-handed flush, he leaped with caution as Lamar Odom soared by him. Garnett's tentativeness made him look bad, as he pushed the ball softly against the front of the rim and missed the easy layup.

When Garnett, who had just four rebounds, wasn't fading from contact, he was over-passing. Minutes after blowing the easy lay-in, he found himself in the middle of the paint, seven feet from the basket with plenty of breathing room. But instead of going up for the shot over Gasol and Lamar Odom, he tried to feed the 6-foot-1 Rondo under the hoop, mucking up the play.

Honestly, the 34-year-old KG looked old. But after watching him fare well against Antawn Jamison and Rashard Lewis the past two series, we'll give him the benefit of the doubt.

Clearly, though, Gasol isn't Jamison or Lewis. Long questioned about his toughness (or lack thereof), Gasol brought the pain on Thursday. And no one knows that better than the 295-pound Davis, who looks like he could crush Gasol like a grape.

But late in the third quarter, it was Gasol who did the flattening. Setting a screen on Davis' blindside, he leveled the Celtics' box-shaped big man, sending him sprawling to the floor and leaving onlookers wondering if Davis would get up wobbling like he did after suffering a Dwight Howard-induced concussion in the Orlando series.

In every way, at every turn, the Lakers bullied the visitors.

But the good news for Boston fans is that the Celtics know it and seem determined to make it a one-time occurrence. Their postgame locker room was a picture of disgust and embarrassment, in large part because they typically don't do soft.

"You saw it in guys' faces," Paul Pierce said. "You heard it, from reactions after the game, just how guys felt. It wasn't a typical-loss locker room. There were some angry people in there and they showed it. The guys in there got pride and don't want to lose the way we did.

"We can deal with losing because it's part of the game. You lose games, you win games. But you can't deal with it when you lose the way we did. We're down 20, they beat us to the hustle plays. That don't sit well with me at all."

Something tells me it's not sitting well with any of them, and that their tentative display in Game 1 will be the exception in this series, not the rule.